Last year we told how farmer Bryan Hill of mid Devon, had 'managed' his badger population to exclude the sick and suffering individuals which the groups had turfed out, and thus had gradually kept a very large area bTb free - but with healthy, stable groups of badgers living alongside the cattle.
Mr. Hill, has written of this year's extraordinary weather conditions and their relation to bTb in cattle, in the Western Morning News : http://tinyurl.com/y963jq
where he points out that the very hot dry summers of 2005 and 2006, have had a huge effect on badger behaviour:
"....this summer, 95 per cent of the badgers' natural food sources vanished in the drought. Water supply, streams, ditches and puddles all dried up, causing the biggest natural 'peturbation' of infected badgers since foot and mouth."
Mr. Hill points out that under these circumstances, baked earth with worms deep underground, and a very limited natural water supply, the badgers had two choices: "Stay and starve, or move and fight" [for territory already occupied by other groups of badgers] ..... or they had a third option.." to drink, eat and hide in barns, sheds or under stacks of bales ; spreading bTb to cattle. "
It is this close contact, often within farm buildings and involving 'shared' water and feed sources that, in our experience is the cause of btb cattle breakdowns which are depressingly long, bitterly persistant and difficult - though not impossible - to control. The main sett and its group are not the problem, it is the badgers which they have turfed out that will lurk around farm buildings - as Bryan Hill says. But this hot dry weather has forced even established groups to either move, and then fight for territory, or stay, sharing feed and water with the cattle.
"The same thing happened with foot and mouth, only it wasn't drought that caused the mass badger movement, but the slaughter of cattle on hundreds of farms .... [ ] .. no cattle, no muck, no worms; just long grass, covering thousands of acres." And then as now, Mr. Hill points out the badgers left to search for food, a situation he has been told by farmers all over the SW this summer, which is happening again.
"...starving badgers in sheds and barns, carcasses going through balers and forage harvesters; nature is having its own unofficial cull this summer".
Mr. Hill's letter is addressed mainly to Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust, vociforously defending all badgers - especially the sick ones - which Bryan Hill has made a point of putting out of there misery, to protect the rest of the group, and the cattle. He concludes;
"..... I've never made any secret that if there are any sick badgers in this area, for their own welfare and to protect the healthy badgers and the cattle, they will be killed. I'm proud that I didn't just sit waiting for my cattle to be tested, killing the reactors, then on the same day turning what was left of the herd out with infected wildlife. Proud that I didn't leave sick badgers to nature's long merciless cull, freely spreading infection as they die a long, slow death. "
"If he (Mr. Lawson) thinks that by changing the cattle tests without removing wildlife infection, just killing ever more cattle in the hope that bTb will be contained, then his head is in the clouds with the flawed science..."
Mr. Lawson's job, as did his predecessor's, the fragrant Elaine, depends totally on 'defending' badgers. But it does not go as far to defend them from Tb:
see our posts: Badgers don't suffer from TB!and'A slight wheeziness'
The cynical amongst us may point out that if the problem of Tb in badgers was solved, as Bryan Hill has solved it in his patch of Devon, then Mr. Lawson and many more bTb 'beneficiaries' would not have a job at all.